Right now, in the European hockey hotbed of Scandinavia, there’s only six hours of daylight per day. And that might be having an effect on the teams, because it has led to sleepy days in the standings.
But in the boardrooms, people are wide awake.
AIK, who play in Solna – a municipality bordering Stockholm – has struggled with financial problems for a decade. It was demoted to Division 1 – a league two tiers below Elitserien – a few years go, but did bounce back to second-division HockeyAllsvenskan. Last week, the franchise’s chairman was quoted as saying that with its meager attendance figures (AIK averages 2,010 spectators in its home games) there was no business model for the club.
“We’re burdened by a substantial deficit from last season, and we’re trying different solutions to get ourselves out of it,” he said.
The way out goes through the Kontinental League.
On Thursday, the team announced its board had signed a letter of intent to join the KHL next season.
AIK is the first team from a non-former Soviet country to join the KHL and the process will serve as a real-time litmus test for a future KHL expansion. The first obstacle will be approval from the Swedish federation.
Fat chance, says Peter Forsberg – not the player, but the vice chairman of the Swedish federation.
“They can join the KHL, but they will be thrown out of Swedish hockey, and become a rogue club,” he told Sweden’s Expressen. “KHL can’t accept them because they are governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“Our job is to make sure that Swedish hockey develops and stays strong,” he added.
The head of the Finnish hockey federation, Kalervo Kummola, was quoted on MTV3 as saying that “AIK’s plans make no sense.”
The day before the AIK announcement, Kummola said in another interview that an open conflict may be in sight.
“The IIHF will absolutely oppose the plans for a pan-European league,” he said.
Just last week, it became clear the KHL would finance the operations of a Swedish feasibility study for a pan-European league, headed by Hakan Loob. Mats Ahdrian, CEO of the Frolunda Indians, one of the teams involved in the study, wasn’t as judgmental with AIK as the Swedish and Finnish federations.
“It’s a brave decision,” he said. “And if their members are for it, I think they should be allowed to join the KHL. I hope the federation supports AIK so we can see if this is the way of the future. I’m not so sure they will, though.
“We have already said no to playing within the KHL framework so this doesn’t affect our plans. It’ll be interesting to see what the reactions are,” he said.
According to media reports in Sweden, the Malmö Redhawks and Leksand Stars also got an invitation to join the KHL, but declined.
CHL WITHOUT RUSSIA?
Of course, when Kummola talks against the KHL expansion, he is also protecting the IIHF’s plans to resurrect the Champions Hockey League, a cup competition for the champions of the top leagues that was shut down after its inaugural season because of the withdrawal of the original investors.
The IIHF was looking for new investors with a public tender process that had a deadline of last week.
But power struggles behind the scenes may cripple the second coming of the CHL, according to reports in the Finnish and Russian press that Russian teams may not want to participate in the new league.
“Russia is a question mark, they have different demands,” said Kummola, vice president of the IIHF and the president of the CHL committee. “We have told them that they have until Monday to reply. I don’t know what that will be.”
According to Russia’s Sport Express, KHL chairman Alexander Medvedev has a quibble with last season’s marketing company, Ovation, over sponsorship matters.
The rumored investors of the CHL include, in addition to Ovation, a group of Canadian businessmen and “a businessman of Ukrainian origin.”
According to Kummola, there is a “90 percent certainty” the CHL will be re-launched.
After weeks of speculation, Rauma Lukko traded its SM-liiga-leading goaltender Petri Vehanen to Ak Bars Kazan in the KHL. Lukko didn’t announce the terms of the financial compensation package, but according to rumors, Lukko pocketed €1 million and Vehanen got €2.5 million himself. Also, Ak Bars Kazan sent Team Sweden regular and former NHLer Mikael Tellqvist to Rauma.
Last February, THN wrote about a special game in Sweden. KB65, a Division 1 team, played against Modo in a district final to see who ruled the area. The game was handicapped so that KB65, playing two tiers below Elitserien, started the game with a 6-0 lead. KB65 won it in overtime (after Modo beat them 7-1 in regulation time).
While the rest of the world had its eyes on Peter Forsberg – the player - who was preparing for an Elitserien comeback at the time, Magnus Häggström, one of the players on KB65, caught the eye of Fredrik Andersson, Modo’s director of hockey operations. Andersson offered him a tryout contract this year and Häggström, 23, grabbed the opportunity and played his way onto the Modo roster this year.
This season, he’s got five goals and seven points in 21 games and is currently seventh in team scoring.
But here’s the kicker that makes the fairytale (almost) complete: Häggström has scored all five of his goals during the five games he’s played on a line with Peter Forsberg.
Forsberg has five goals and 10 points in those games.
Eye on Europe will be featured on THN.com every Friday throughout the season. Risto Pakarinen is a Finnish freelance writer, based in Stockholm, Sweden who also writes for NHL.com and IIHF.com. When not writing about European hockey on THN, he's probably writing about hockey at ristopakarinen.com/hockey as Puckarinen.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.